Questionnaire: Ignaz Schick (2007)
1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?
As a child I took saxophone classes for a couple of years in a small local music school on the Austrian/German border – the training was in classical music and jazz, and I also took music theory classes there, like rhythm studies, harmony, … Everything else I learned by doing it hands on, my main education was that I was trying to play as much as possible, with a big variety of bands and musicians, learning from more experienced older musicians, making sure that I would be always be challenged to improve the playing.
After those classes it took me many years again to forget all this formal training, freeing myself from “doing things the right way”.
For a few years I worked as a technician and assistant for a contemporary composer, Josef Anton Riedl. Here I learned about the urgent need to find unheard sounds, but also about structuring & shaping the material. And how to investigate & amplify the sound within an object.
What I mainly took from the saxophone lessons is the discipline of practising, how to keep on going even when you are in a (subjective) dead end, how to master living through the crises which will come about every now and then.
Also in these lessons I became aware of how important the attention to the tone is. No matter what material or instrument or equipment you are using. It is only the very personal tone which matters and makes you unique or recognizable. One little phrase and you know it is Jimmy Lyons, a single note and you know it is Don Cherry, one gurgle and you know it is Axel Dörner, one click and you know it is Burkhard Beins. A whisper and you know it is Phil Minton.
It is an ongoing issue for me, to find my own unique and personal tone and it is developing very slowly, now that I am coming closer to that with my turntable set up.
2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?
The equipment I use has been changing constantly throughout the years, and I am quite sure it will continue to change. It also depends on whether we are talking about live or studio set-ups. In the moment I use rotating surfaces, that is simply a Technics MK II turntable which is modified with a microphone and an additional plate. I use objects to create sound by direct friction and vibration. I’ve felt quite happy with this set up for 3 years now but slowly I have to change it a bit or find something new, in older days I would just simply changed the equipment for something else when I wanted to find new sounds, but nowadays I try to stay with a certain set-up but change the way I touch it to achieve new material.
In some collaborations, i.e. with Gunnar Geisse, Thomas Ankersmit or Doro Schuerch (singing saw) I use sine waves, feedback and bowed turntable drones, all that running through the pitch shifter and sometimes a loop delay.
In Phosphor, after many years of searching I found the right set-up. I only use one record player and objects, no vinyls. In Perlonex there were also many changes, I started out with an old Akai Sampler and various Minidisc Players, then I used MDs & CDs + many pedals – for a short phase I was even using a laptop & always part of the set up was a Jam Man Loop delay. Nowadays the set up does not change so much anymore: I use an old analog sine wave generator, delay feedback loops, and turntables/objects/ percussion, I use a lot of microtonal detuned sinewave drones here, plus sharp feedback. Additionally I always try to request a fender twin tube amp for the backline, so that I have a dirty warm sound in combination with the clean sound from the PA.
Also in Perlonex I sometimes add instruments which I find at a specific location, in a studio in Gothenborg recently there were many xylophones, a piano and various nice effect boxes & an old tape delay, so basically I used all these additional instruments. It was a nice enrichment of the usual sounds. Sometimes, if there is a very specific soundscape close to the venue we also put microphones outside the space to incorporate the specific soundscape into our playing. The most remarkable thing like this happened in Louisville, Kentucky. There were these amazingly long and slow freight trains passing just right behind the venue, so it was logical to put a microphone and make the trains part of the music.
For Blind snakes I use mainly very broken 7 inches for my speed core scratching technique, I take off the slipmate, stop the motor and just turn the record with fingers on the metal plate, it has the advantage that I can be extremely fast and rhythmically precise, mainly because I don’t have to move the whole plate. The disadvantage is that the records are totally fucked after a few seconds on the b-side, but who cares. I put the turntables through some distortion pedals, the left channel is routed into a fender twin while the right channel is plugged into a big Ampeg bass amp. In Blind snakes I need to
physically feel the pressure of the sound waves, it becomes like a massage. So every attack has to be felt. Most of the time it takes less than a minute and all volume and amps are on max.
And of course in Decollage I play the saxophone, a quite old Selmer Alto Saxophone which needs to be fixed urgently.
3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?
It is the fascination and seeking for the unheard & yet unknown (sound), in my opinion it is the necessity and obligation for each creative being to research for the yet unknown, no matter how painful this research may become, no matter how lonely you will sometimes feel, at times I think I found some of those unknown areas which can even feel so familiar once you’ve dug them out, but mostly I am still searching, not even sure if I will ever find something of real importance.
4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?
I am not involved in improvisation, I am involved in experimental music.
That can be composed in the studio, created in real time, pre-structured collectively, or fixed by loose arrangements, sometimes rehearsed over & over again for many years, improvisation is one method out of many to reach certain musical results, and there are many other methods, like tape music/collage/studio work, composition, songs, conductions, oral instructions, installation…
But for sure there is one thing which is very unique in improvisation, when it goes well and if it is practised with the right players it is the only really democratic form of creating music, it is sort of an Utopian idea which comes true here, each participant is equal to the other, no one is the boss or has all power like a dictator, and this seems to be a reason why so many feel threatened by improvisation. Every participant is equal and free to make his own decisions. In that sense improvisation in its pure form is highly political.
5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?
It always depends on the situation and project, often when there are clear plans the pressure of fulfilling those can block your flow of ideas to go somewhere else. Sometimes there are clear planned out actions, there’s a clear road to follow, I think in general there is 95% of planning/experience and 5% of spontaneity, and I think it is likewise in composition.
6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?
I don’t practise improvisation, I practise my instrument, technical aspects like fluidity, independence, research on new sounds and possibilities, the economy of material (the reduction of objects used and the increase of achieved sounds) and I practise with special groups in order to create a unique sound. A sound which sort of becomes typical for each group. I am only rarely interested in ad hoc groups which have a sort of a “one night stand” feel.
The main focus is to work with selected trustworthy individuals over long periods of time, to create a certain deeper understanding for both the music and each other. This trust can not be forced, like in a relation it has to grow and that needs time. In a way you practise how to trust, same as in a friendship.
There will be many ups and downs, so time is a very important factor here.
7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?
Hard to say, the more coherent the structure is, the more I will appreciate it, but it really depends on the style of music which is just performed, whether it is a noise set-up, or a microtonal-trance drone project or a super silent lowercase set, all those different musics have their own laws & rules, what works well for a noise set-up does not necessarily help a drone set, something what worked well once does not necessarily work again the next time, best is usually a kind of common denominator, a certain base you can rely on, exciting sets usually consist only of 30% innovation/risk and 70% of (own) tradition/experience.
8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?
Sometimes, but not in that sense that I play differently, more in the sense of staying aware i.e. of the material that I’m using, that I don’t repeat myself or the material in different pieces; it is more like: we have three pieces now, but something is still missing, so how can we manage to reach those areas where we haven’t been before.
It is a bit like in concert situations, that sometimes there is a certain nervousness or excitement that takes over. I think that it is best to go beyond that and forget about it while performing or recording. My ideal is to find a way and to learn how to achieve this tension or special “vibe” which can turn the whole performance into pure magic.